05 September 2010

Doing the Ramadan Shuffle

We have entered the final week of Ramadan, and my local co-workers are beginning to look a wee bit ragged around the edges, twenty-some-odd days of fasting having taken their toll.  Initially, I was attempting to fast with them, and I was quite game for the first 10 days or so.  Coming from a Catholic background, the concept of extended fasting is really not that alien to me.  I will say, however, that the moratorium on drinking during the fasting period really makes for an extra turn of the screw.  It's hot and dusty here, and there were several occasions when I don't think I would have made it through the day but for my lunch-replacing nap.  Meaning no disrespect to the blessed Prophet, but it might have been more reasonable to convey the work of God not in the last blush of summer.

Actually, the issue of drinking was one of the two factors that precipitated my breaking fast.  During my recent travels out to the east, I was stranded on a tarmac for a few hours, awaiting helicopter transport.  Rather than pass out and miss my bird, I opted to drink the terminal's deliciously cold bottled water (all of the water out here is bottled.  I brush my teeth and wash my cloathes with it.  It's ridiculous).  I completely fell off the bandwagon while in Sharana, as the site manager and I would frequently get up at 0500 to go running and coffee was an absolute must.

I did feel a bit sheepish admitting to my locals that I'd stopped fasting.  Objectively, I could have continued - when traveling, you're allowed to break the fast, as long as you make up the days subsequently.  However, the heat of the day and caffeine cravings weren't the only reason I lost enthusiasm for participating in Ramadan.  Initially, I joined in the fast at their request.  The vast majority of folks in my office are observant Muslims, and I wanted to be respectful of their tradition as a fellow person of faith.  Unfortunately, not all of them saw this as a simple demonstration of solidarity.  Instead, several of the guys are now convinced I'm going to convert to Islam.  At least a few times each week, they offer to teach me how to pray or translate verses from the Koran for me to study.  One has even taken the terrifically sanguine step of discussing my impending conversion with him Imam.

Don't get me wrong - I'm not totally displeased with this turn of events, as some of the conversion efforts have been both entertaining and informative.  Having read bits of the Koran in the past, I really do appreciate the poetry of many of the verses.  I've also really enjoyed learning about the prayer methodology; I was surprised at how closely many of the techniques line up with some of my favourite yogic meditative practices.  And the Iftar, that is, the formal dinner which breaks the fast at sundown each day, is an absolutely fantastic tradition.  Aside from the great food, most of the Iftars I've joined have just been classy affairs.  There always seems to be a tremendous sense of community that I love; even as a visitor who could only follow about a third of the conversation (whenever they slip in to English), I was always made to feel very welcome.

What really tickles me, though, is that they are doing all of this while at the same time explaining that evangelism is prohibited in Islam.  One of the others confided in me that, if you flip someone, every good deed they perform in life reflects back on you.  Evangelism might be taboo, but it sure has some nice perks.

In the face of this continuing non-conversion, I'm eventually going to have to convince them that I'm a lost cause.  One of the first prayer lessons given to me was that women can't fast or pray during menstruation (would this be the first lesson to a male potential convert?  Somehow, I think not!).  While I understand the fasting restriction - after all, blood loss and no food are not a happy combination - the prayer thing is a bit beyond the pale.  I'm sorry, fellas, but I can't bring myself to join a religion that thinks I'm not clean enough to talk to God all 'cause I can bear the bambinos.  Besides, what with my healthy dose of Catholic guilt, I'm fairly certain that Jesus would start stalking me in retribution.  Bring on the conversion PTSD!  At any rate, I'm looking forward to the Eid celebrations at the end of the week - more good food, and I'll get to learn 'real' dancing (they're not big supporters of salsa).  Good times to be had by all.